Archive for April, 2013

Flower Travellin’ Band “Make Up”

In the wake of their rather extraordinary, barnstormer of a classic, Satori, the Flower Traveling Band stepped up to the bar and managed to pull off that all-too-rare of feats, an artistically successful follow-up. While not quite the record that Satori had been, Made In Japan managed to establish the Band as a force to be reckoned with, and hinted at a long and illustrious career to come. Something seems to have gone a little haywire in-between the time that third record hit shelves and the compilation of what would come to be the group’s fourth, and final, release: 1973’s studio/live double-record set, Make Up. The Traveling Band had shed off a good percentage of the psychedelia that had marked their most legendary work, and instead developed themselves into a progressive, hard rock band, in tune with the sound of the era.

So what does all this have to say about Make Up? Well, despite the odds being against it, the record is a solid work, with some memorable material and at least a few gems. Most of it is something of a grab bag, veering back and forth between hard rock bluster and rather sentimental balladry. “All the Days” is one of the record’s heavier, most typical Traveling Band numbers, with a gnarly guitar solo and a rather schizoid bass line. The following “Look  At My Window” is a ten minute cut of acoustic prog that makes it clear that the band wasn’t planning on resting on their laurels, as marked by some great vocal harmonies. “The Shadow of Lost Days” is hundred-proof blues, and a showcase of sorts for Joe Yamanaka’s soulful wail. The more unusual cuts to be found here include a twenty-three minute work-out on Made In Japan‘s “Hiroshima,” half of which is unfortunately taken up by a ridiculously overextended drum solo, and a laughable riff on “Blue Suede Shoes” featuring the band’s manager on lead vocals that never should have happened in the first place, much less have been recorded for all of posterity. If it weren’t for a roaring live take of Satori‘s legendary second movement and the soaring, atmospheric acoustic closing number, “After the Concert,” the second record might be considered pure filler, but as it is these last two tracks almost makes it worth sitting through the preceding half hour of hits-and-misses.

Make Up may not be the place to start with the Flower Traveling Band’s catalog, but if you have already dug the majestic freak-outs of Satori, then you could do a lot worse than picking this collection up as well. The band would not release another record until 2008’s rather dismal reunion album We Are Here, making this the end of the line for one of Japan’s most highly-regarded psychedelic exports. The two-disc set has most recently been reissued by Phoenix Records, and while their set commands a rather high, double-CD price new, you can score a copy second-hand for far less.

mp3: Look At My Window

😀 Reissue | 2011 | Phoenix | buy here ]
:) Original | 1973 | Atlantic | search ebay ]

H.P. Lovecraft “H.P. Lovecraft II”

There are some bands that maintain classic status to a certain informed percentage of listeners despite almost complete anonymity elsewhere. Chicago folk-rockers H.P. Lovecraft may never have made much of a musical impact on the 1960s/1970s psychedelic rock scene, but they did manage to lay down two extraordinarily cosmic records of west coast rockers that rank up with the best the era had to offer. Their self-titled debut, released on Philips in 1967, set the scene: tight rhythm section, spaced-out guitars, whirling organ, and wide-screen vocal harmonies. Though they took their name from Edgar Allen Poe’s most worthy of successors, the mind-warping writer H.P. Lovecraft, their music itself leaned far closer to the wired, black-light anthems of bands like Jefferson Airplane and Mad River than anything overtly Gothic.

By the time that H.P. Lovecraft II hit shelves, the band had undergone a series of personnel changes and a timely relocation to Los Angeles. Though the material was immediately recognizable as being that of the same band, the jams were tighter and just that much more surreal, with a greater emphasis on experimental keyboard work (as well as a heavy new dose of reverb and tape delay). It was a clear distillation of all that the first album had promised, a kaleidoscopic refraction of the folk influences that weighed so heavily in the band’s choice of material and a closer embrasure of the spectral edge to their sound. Even when the band was not drawing inspiration directly from their namesake’s work, as in the frenetic “At the Mountains of Madness,” there was a weird edge to their lyrics that was hard to ignore. Cuts like “Electrollentando” and “Möbius Trip” were some of the most memorable compositions the band had conjured: floating, meditational heirs to the preceding album’s centerpiece, “The White Ship,” which had been the closest that Lovecraft had ever come to a charting single. Momentary detours here come in the form of the medieval folk pastiche “Blue Jack of Diamonds” – which, while not one of the group’s finest moments, manages to survive on a twist of charm and a benignly pleasant melody – and the brief-but-bizarre affected vocal collage of “Nothing’s Boy.”

After releasing H.P. Lovecraft II, the band would find itself disintegrating at the height of its powers due to band member disillusionment and differing ambitions. A false reincarnation of the band (under the abbreviated monicker Lovecraft) would release a mild slab of country rock a couple years down the line, but for a more authentic “lost third album” one should turn to the live Fillmore West recording released on compact disc in the mid nineties. Here the band’s talents shine brighter than ever as their instrumental prowess is unleashed from the restrictions of the studio. Really, though, any additions to Lovecraft’s limited catalog are welcome. If you don’t have of of this band’s recordings, do yourself a favor and remedy the situation: these are a few slabs of wax that no collection should be without.

mp3: It’s About Time
mp3: At the Mountains of Madness

:) Original | 1968 | Philips | search ebay ]
😉 Download | buy here ]
😎 Spotify link | listen ]

Buck Owens and his Buckaroos “Carnegie Hall Concert / In Japan!”

It’s certainly not a lost gem or unknown by any means. In fact this one is considered one of the best live country albums of all time,  holding the #1 country album slot for five weeks in 1966, and is often cited as Buck and his Buckaroos’ greatest record. But I’ll be damned if the Carnegie Hall Concert doesn’t have its place on this page (especially in concert with its sister album In Japan!) as a great live document of a great band in its own right, but mostly as a model for all the country rock that would closely follow in the steps of Buck’s classic Bakersfield Sound, right down to the Nudie suit.

So what is it about Carnegie Hall that’s makes it worth hundreds of listens? Sure, it’s filled with corny bits that don’t necessarily make the transition to audio, Buck always playing the consummate ham (“pure pork”), and manages to condense a quantity of hits into medleys where any would serve to stand on its own.  Just, dang me, find me a Buck tune that sounds better in the studio than on Carnegie. We’re talking about a band at the top of its game, tighter than a tick, in the prime of its prime. Led by Buck’s right hand, “Dangerous” Don Rich, who’s simple licks would come to define Telecaster country guitar, “Tender” Tom Brumley on pedal steel, “Dashing” Doyle Holly on bass, and “Wonderful” Willie Cantu on the drums, the Buckaroos never had a better lineup. And yet they play it so straight: no virtuosic runs or fancy orchestrations, just pure, honest electrified country.

The classic self-titled instrumental “Buckaroo,” covered later by the Byrds, Burritos, and Leo Kottke, is evidence enough of their significance to the sound of late sixties country rock. Don’s high harmony reinvents “Together Again,” rendering the studio version limp in comparison. “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “Act Naturally,” “Tiger By The Tail,” and one of Buck’s latest #1 singles “Waitin’ In Your Welfare Line” get a full, lively treatments. The medley’s serve as a great introduction and reminder to Buck’s library of classic tunes and move the record along well in contrast to wacky comedy stuff like “Fun ‘N’ Games with Don and Doyle” and “Twist and Shout.” The Sundazed reissue even restores the full concert so not a moment is cut (like the original LP).

Amazingly, not a single track is repeated on live follow-up In Japan! While not loaded quite like its older sis, this is more or less a continuation of where we left off (only replacing Doyle Holly with Wayne Wilson on bass), the band every bit as good, and featuring lots of Buck’s less appreciated classics. My favorites obviously include “Open Up Your Heart,” the ungrammatical “Where Does The Good Times Go,” and the very sweet “We Were Made For Each Other.” Also the ballad, “I Was Born To Be In Love With You,”  is quite lovely and for some odd reason appears only on this album.

Most of anything, these records are plain fun. The way Buck will introduce a tune saying “this one’s called…” and launch into the chorus; the perfect timing and interplay of a band that wouldn’t even think to rehearse. You can just hear the smiles on their faces, even the audience.

mp3: Buckaroo
mp3: I Was Born To Be In Love With You

:) Original | 1966, 1967 | Capitol | search carnegie | search japan ]
😀 Reissue | 2000 | Sundazed | buy carnegie | buy japan ]

Almendra “II”

Yet another classic group out of Argentina’s inspirational seventies rock scene. Almendra is probably one of the country’s most legendary groups, if for no other reason than for laying roots for the career of Luis Alberto Spinetta, who has become the country’s most celebrated pop/rock songwriters. Almendra has more value than as some sort of origin story, however (hell, I’d go so far as to argue that this is the raddest music the man has ever made). The band’s two self-titled records are heavy, eclectic slabs of late-sixties psych grounded in smoky, Buenos Aires blues, with brief acoustic flourishes that hint at the mellower sounds to come from the quartet’s principal exponent. In fact, Almendra runs a pretty similar current to the work of fellow travelers Vox Dei.

Though the first of these two vinyl slabs is the most celebrated, its follow up is just as worthwhile. What sets this one off from the first, however, is the fact that this thing is a monster: a twenty-one track double record brimming with enough riffing and rumbling to last you halfway to the Mojave and back. Though those more familiar with European and North American hard rock might find these South American kids’ jams to be a little on the raw and unvarnished side, I find it’s that very characteristic that makes Almendra stand out from the pack. This could very well have been just another overloaded grab-bag of biker rock miscellanea, but Almendra has enough character and songwriting power to turn a now worn-out format into something earthy and reinvigorating.

That being said, the record’s finest moments do come with its occasional deviations from the norm. “Los Elefantes Saben Descansar” is a memorable slice of semi-acoustic psychedelia, brushed in warm bottleneck and wah-pedal guitar playing, while the short, late-period Beatles venture “Jingle” proves that the band could be as subtle and charming as the best of them. My particular favorite here, however, arrives when the band finally comes in and lays all these sounds down together on the fourteen-and-a-half minute opus “Agnus Dei,” which makes up the bulk of the first LP’s second side. Songs seem to bleed in and out, as a loopy acoustic groove slowly descends into a choogling electric improvisation. The bass work is a particular highlight here, especially during in the number’s rather chaotic final segment.

Almendra II may not be a perfect record – very few double albums like this are – but it manages to rise above its less successful moments (the silly interlude “Verde Llano,” the obnoxiously loud bongos on the otherwise excellent “Carmen,” and a couple of somewhat generic blues-rock cuts) and reward repeated listening. This one’s best listened to the way it was intended, either on wax or with a good break to refresh your senses in-between records (for those of you digging this one on compact disc or otherwise, this would fall right after track ten, which I may as well note is another highlight, despite failing to receive a mention in the preceding paragraph). Reissues of this one are remarkably easy to come by at budget prices for whatever reason, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and dig it.

mp3: Toma El Tren Hacia El Sur
mp3: Los Elefantes (Saben Descansar)

:) Original | 1970 | RCA Vik | search ebay ]
😀 Reissue | 2008 | Sony | buy here ]

Paul Williams

Paul Williams, pioneering chronicler of rock music

The Poor “Help The Poor”

Eagles may have earned themselves a reputation for taking late 1960s country rock and turning it into slick, corporate drivel, but that doesn’t change the fact that the band’s early members have some solid histories in underground rock and roll. Just check Bernie Leadon’s much-lauded work with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Dillard & Clark, and Hearts and Flowers (and that’s one horribly abbreviated list) for a glimpse. One of the least explored Eagles histories, however, is that of bass player Randy Meisner. Not only did Meisner work high-profile stints with Poco and the Stone Canyon Band, but he also served time in a number of far-lesser-known mid-sixties garage bands, such as The Poor, The Esquires, and The Soul Survivors, all of whose recordings have been assembled by Sound City Music on 2003’s rather forgotten Help the Poor.

If the Eagles references have you frightened, fear not: Help the Poor is solid psychedelic garage rock, about as far removed from Meisner’s later band’s output as you can get. From the chiming folk-rock of “Hung Up On Losing” to the crashing psychedelia of Tom Shipley’s “She’s Got the Time, She’s Got the Changes,” this is a platter full of strong songwriting, sharp harmonies, and adventurous arrangements. These guys knew what they were doing, taking cues from west-coast combos like The Byrds and The Association and adding a hefty dose of sonic bite. If there’s any complaint to be made here it’s that this anthology is rather top-heavy: the first half-dozen cuts are absolutely phenomenal could-have-been-hit-singles, while the remainder (with the exception of the aforementioned “She’s Got the Changes,” which is actually one of my favorite pieces here) tend to be a little less memorable.

As is always the case with a comprehensive anthology spanning two or three different bands, you are bound to get some musical anomalies. The choogling surf-rock of “The Prophet” (the only cut we get from Meisner’s short-lived Esquires) is Help the Poor‘s case-in-point, featuring a booming introduction and awkwardly overdubbed applause which mar an otherwise righteous Morricone flavored instrumental. The album as a whole remains an exciting listen, however, and like all successful compilations leaves the attuned listener hungry for more. Too bad this fifteen-track collection looks to be all we get – another should-have-been from an era brimming with great sounds.

mp3: Come Back Baby
mp3: She’s Got the Time, She’s Got the Changes

😀 Collection | 2000 | Sound City Music | buy here ]